Pollution kills 30,000 people each year in Delhi-NCR: AIIMS director
The levels of pollution go up in Delhi every winter and living in conditions like this year-on-year can make our lungs look like that of a smokerUpdated: Nov 10, 2017 16:17 IST
As air pollution chokes Delhi, Dr Randeep Guleria, director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences, talks about what works and what doesn’t.
Is the high level of pollution a health emergency?
Absolutely. The levels of air pollution in Delhi range from ‘severe’ to ‘very severe’ and it can lead to not only respiratory problems, but also increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke as well. However, in Delhi, this sort of air pollution is not unprecedented. Last year too, one week after Diwali, we had high levels of air pollution. Vehicular traffic and crop burning combined with temperature drop and very low wind velocity lead to the pollutants accumulating at the ground level.
What are the immediate health impacts of the high levels of pollution?
People might experience breathing difficulties and tightness in chest. Even in healthy individuals, it can cause cough, wheezing, headache and buzzing in the head. The people who already suffer from conditions like asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), their symptoms aggravate. In fact, if we correlate the pollution levels and patient attendance in AIIMS OPD, we have seen that 48 to 72 hours after the pollution levels spike, there is a 20% increase in the number of patients coming to the respiratory and heart clinics.
How does pollution affect health over a period of time?
The levels of pollution go up in Delhi every winter and living in conditions like this year-on-year can make our lungs look like that of a smoker. We are also adding a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes because the small polluting particles can travel in the blood stream and cause arthrosclerosis (a build-up in blood vessels leading to their narrowing). The impact is especially pronounced on children whose lungs have stunted growth, which can result in more respiratory problems in later years.
Can pollution kill people?
Yes. In fact, it is estimated that every year, 25,000-30,000 people die of pollution-related causes in Delhi-NCR during the winter months, when the pollution levels are on the rise. However, it is just an estimate. This is because pollution is a silent killer; it does not directly kill anyone. But the increase in the levels of pollution can lead to aggravated respiratory symptoms or heart attacks and stroke, which can kill people. If we look at the London smog of 1952, one of the worst of all times, more than 4,000 people died due to pollution. The effects of pollution on human health and mortality are well documented.
Are masks and air purifiers effective?
There is no data to suggest that masks or air-purifiers are effective in a practical setting. A good quality mask, like an N95 or N99, is very difficult to keep on for long periods of time as breathing in them is difficult. And, if there are gaps near the chin or any part of the mask, the pollutants are going to enter. If you use air purifiers in a completely closed room, the levels of particulate matter go down. But in a home with windows and doors that are periodically opened and shut, it will not have much effect. People get masks and air-purifiers because it gives them comfort (of being protected).
What needs to be done?
We have to make our city environment friendly by using more of public transport and having cycling tracks. The government needs to control the road dust, improve the fuel quality and get better engines for our vehicles. Even the industrialised countries had faced the challenges of pollution and now they have very good quality air and they did not have to give up cars for that. For immediate relief, people must avoid going out of their homes as much as possible, especially the people at risk – the children, the old, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems. Also, people who are suffering from chronic respiratory problems or heart problems must be vigilant about their condition.
First Published: Nov 10, 2017 16:16 IST